Published: Wed, April 11, 2018
Economy | By

Saudi crown prince rounds off USA tour with ex-presidents meeting

Saudi crown prince rounds off USA tour with ex-presidents meeting

Indeed, it's not clear whether Prince Mohammed's pitch to invest in Saudi Arabia would convince U.S. business leaders while his anti-corruption campaign targeted hundreds of princes, ministers and businessmen - a climate which makes identifying sustainable partners a tough task for Americans, according to Henderson.

Amid the flurry of announcements, campaigners were mobilised to keep attention focused on French weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and rights abuses in the country.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to sign a "strategic partnership" with Macron in the Elysee Palace on Tuesday.

Macron will walk a diplomatic tightrope with the young prince in talks set to focus on cultural ties and investments but also the war in Yemen, dubbed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the kingdom's arch-nemesis Iran.

Prince Mohammed's scheduled visit to the Paris-based start-up campus Station F on Monday with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was abruptly cancelled, but the two leaders were scheduled to meet for lunch.

France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who worked closely with Prince Mohammed as defence minister in the previous French government, greeted him at the airport, the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.

The dinner, held behind a tight security cordon, set the tone for the official part of the visit which started Monday, following a weeks-long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt.

"This is not a traditional state visit", another source close to the delegation told AFP.

They will also formally agree on Tuesday to cooperate on a massive tourism project that showcases Saudi history, part of the prince's efforts to wean the country off a dependency on oil exports, open up its society and push social reform.

In France, the visit will include business events and a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, a similarly young and ambitious leader keen on radical reforms.

Authorities rounded up dozens of people in November on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's orders, with many confined to and interrogated at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Macron has also announced plans to be the first French president to visit Iran since 1976, as he seeks to build relations with the two competing regional powers in the Middle East.

Three out of four French people believe it is "unacceptable" to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll last month by independent research group YouGov.

And this week, 10 worldwide rights groups implored Macron to pressure Prince Mohammed over the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

Strengthening US-Saudi relations in the face of Iran was a priority for US President Donald Trump, who hailed the nations' "great friendship" as he met with the 32-year-old prince at the Oval Office on March 20.

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